This article analyses the impacts of commodification of space on the socio-spatial configurations of Sa Penya, a degraded neighborhood located in the historical part of Ibiza Town (Spain).  The tourist economy model of Ibiza and the construction of an imaginary through an international representation of symbols related to hedonism and exclusiveness are important factors to understand the urban policies towards Sa Penya regeneration process.


Sa Penya is located at the foot of a Renaissance Wall –protected by UNESCO-, and between the most significant parts of the city of Ibiza, Dalt Vila and La Marina. The area has undergone a dramatic process of urban degradation and social marginalization over the last four decades. Its central location and its protected historical heritage make Sa Penya a high profitable area for the property market; this factor conditions the way regeneration urban policies are taking place, which are mainly oriented to a gradual process of expropriation and speculation rather than to the recovery of the social and urban fabric.  

The previous Sa Penya’s population, mainly formed by fishermen, moved out to newer areas of town due to the wealth resulted from the incipient tourism industry in the 60’s and 70’s. The neighborhood consequently suffered from a gradual process of depopulation and public divestment that led the area to be the settlement for working class migrants in search for affordable living. The group who repopulated Sa Penya belongs mainly to the gypsy ethnic minority (from now on gitano), who migrated from Southern Spain to the island to work in the emerging construction sector resulted from the tourism expansion.  The subsequent decrease of labour demand in the construction sector and the public disinvestment in the area enhanced the proliferation of illicit activities related to drug trafficking and a consequent dramatic marginalization. These circumstances together with the predominance of an ethnic population group have led Sa Penya to be known as the gitano ghetto of Ibiza

The labyrinth-like urban layout and the difficult accessibility to Sa Penya favour the area to be hidden from the tourist and the citizen gaze. In spite of its proximity to the touristy areas of Ibiza, Sa Penya’s current dystopic reality is characterized by high levels of poverty, unemployment, insanity, lack of schooling and slum living conditions. However, the adjacent areas’ socio-spatial configurations keep reshaping to adapt to the needs of a tourism industry oriented to a wealthy public in search for exclusive nightlife, gastronomy and culture. 

The Special Plan of Protection and Regeneration (PEPRI) of Sa Penya and La Marina - approved in 1994 – aims to preserve, rejuvenate and revitalize the invaluable historical complex, as well as rehabilitate the existing houses, providing the area with infrastructure and services, and improving the access for cars and pedestrians. However, the extent to which the public authorities have complied PEPRI objectives since its approval until these days is very poor, slow and incoherent. 

The ethnographic research carried out during the summer of 2014 evidences a number of dichotomies in the way urban policies towards Sa Penya’s regeneration process are taking place. On the one hand, the fact that the area is protected due to its historical and cultural heritage value increases the land value, but on the other hand the protection normative stops developers to transform the original modest buildings into modern-living spaces aimed at wealthier investors. The institutional response towards this dichotomy is a deliberate abandonment of the neighborhood that pursues declaring the area officially in state of ruins. By achieving the eventual state of ruins, the Government will be able to change the normative and proceed with an integral transformation and the subsequent erase of the current social and urban fabric.  Hence, the current physical and visual barriers benefit the pursued objective by keeping the area hidden from the citizen/tourist gaze. Contemporary, the socio-spatial configurations of Sa Penya’sadjacent areas are getting reshaped to meet the needs of the increasing mass-tourism industry. It is worth mentioning as an example the embellishment of the neighbor marina – few meters away from Sa Penya – whose private mooring prices come up to 3000€ per day.

The adjacent areas’ transformation let Sa Penya on hold while the added value of the land keeps increasing. By the time the value reaches its maximum level, it is expected that public institutions will perform faster towards the expropriations, the current population’s displacement and the adaptation of the neighborhood to wealthier investors.  Meanwhile, the Balearic Government’s strategy to justify their incoherent performance and apparent impossibility to comply PEPRI’s regeneration objectives is to increase the social stigma towards gitanocurrent population of Sa Penya. Media often portrays the neighborhood as an outlaw area where drugs are ubiquitous and outsiders are not welcome. However, the institutional attitude towards drug trafficking is also paradoxical. Throughout the research it is evidenced that there is a certain degree of impunity towards drug dealers, who operate freely around the area. Thus, citizen’s exposure to these illicit activities enhances the perception of the area as dangerous, but on the other hand, drug business brings money and supports Ibiza’s international image as the world capital of nightlife and clubs, in which drugs consumption has an important role.  

Therefore, Sa Penya’s regeneration is a complex process, in which neoliberal urban policies are oriented towards a gentrification process through an intentional abandonment that enhances the getthoization and the social isolation of the current socio-spatial configurations. Thus, the eventual goals are the displacement of the current population and the adaptation of the area to the needs of the upcoming eventual middle-class residents and tourists.


- Pablo Conejo